Friday, February 19, 2010

Sue Scheff: Facebook, Free Speech, Teachers, Students and the Law

With the recent headlines about Katherine Evans and her victory in Broward County, Florida regarding a judge's ruling, stated that she is allowed to sue her former principal.

Backed by lawyers from the Florida branch of the ACLU, Evans won her first victory this week when Judge Barry Garber ruled that she could proceed with the case because her Facebook group was protected by the First Amendment. "Evans' speech falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech," Garber wrote in his opinion. "It was an opinion of a student about a teacher, that was published off-campus, did not cause any disruption on-campus, and was not lewd, vulgar, threatening, or advocating illegal or dangerous behavior." - Digital Trends

Free speech does not condone defamation, however is what Katherine Evans wrote defamatory? That doesn't seem to be the case, the story is about the punishment that Evans received following posting ugly comments about one of her teachers.

Katherine Evans started the "Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I've ever met!" group on Facebook back in 2007 and featured a photograph of the teacher and an invitation for other students to "express your feelings of hatred," prompting a three-day suspension from school principal Peter Bayer. The suspension came two months after the page was taken down. Evans was also removed from Advanced Placement classes.

Evans wants to have the suspension removed from her disciplinary record and receive a nominal fee for the violation of her First Amendment rights.

Maybe this is an example of the old cliché, "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything." Or in today's digital world, "if you don't have something nice to post, don't post it."

Remember, what goes online, stays online. What you post today can come back to haunt you later. If you are angry with someone, dislike your boss or teacher - think twice before you post about it. Today once you put it out there, it virtually impossible to take it back, and most people don't want to end up in a courtroom - no matter what side you are on. There are never any winners. Except the lawyers, in my opinion.

Although Katherine Evans has been given the green light to file her case, free speech lives on, however when will people start realizing enough is enough with some forms of Internet abuse? Cyberbullying, Internet predators, and sexting are just the start of the ugliness that lurks online.

Eventually the laws need to catch up with the free for all cyberspace.

Read more on Examiner.

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